Monday, 26 June 2017

Back to the Classics // Kenya Edition (with a bit of LesMisBook thrown in)

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It's a fab challenge in which you read twelve (or six, or nine) classics from different categories and review them, and then you can enter a draw to win $30 for The Book Depository!

I really missed picking Sherlock gifs for blog posts. It's the little things, guys.
Fear not: this isn't a post reviewing all the classics I read in Kenya! (There were quite a few.) Just picking a few faves for now.

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Minha tatuagem!
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A romance classic // Romeo and Juliet 

“Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That rumour's eyes may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms untalked of and unseen."

(3.2.5-7)

What else would I pick for a classic romance? I took this to Kenya as “research" for LesMisBook (/I just wanted it to be my friend in a strange new place. I read it on our first day and it definitely helped with my uncertainty and worry!), because in her drama school auditions, Nina gives Juliet's speech from Act 3, Scene 2. I was delighted to spot some thematic similarities between my lil novel and this play -- they are, after all, both about first love and prejudice. A LesMisBook snippet:
“[Juliet's] not actually twittery, is she?” he said. 
“Nah, she’s cool! She’s very pragmatic, like, the opposite of Romeo. I think the play’s about her.” 
“Is that the feminist reading?” 
“Pipe down.” 
“It’s interesting, the bit … here, let me see.” 
I threw him the book and he caught it in one hand. “This bit.” He found the place. “Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night, / That rumour’s eyes may wink, and Romeo / Leap to these arms untalked of and unseen.” 
“I love those lines.” 
“It shows she really loves him, doesn’t it? I’ve never wanted anyone to” – his mouth twitched in a smile – “leap to my arms untalked of unseen. Like, what’s the point?” He smiled at my face. “Is that an awful thing to say?” 
“Yes!” 
“Why?” 
“Because relationships shouldn’t be manufactured for the onlookers!” 
Jonathan stretched. “I guess that’s true. I’ve just, you know, never had that kind. The non-manufactured.” He tilted his head. “Or any kind, in fact. Forever alone and all that …” 
I rolled my eyes. “Poor you.” 
“What about you? 
“We are absolutely not having this conversation.” 
He grinned – it struck me he rarely stops smiling – and raised his hands. “Have I reached a Do Not Enter sign?” 
“A big one.”
~***~

I have zero time for people who think Romeo and Juliet don't really love each other. That it's just a stupid teenage thing that blows out of proportion and leads to horribly misguided suicide. Their love is absolutely beautiful. Sure, it's doomed, but that's fate. Their deaths are fated. It's in the prologue, fam.

Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun."

(3.2.21-5)

You see, death is always there, with them. Even here, Juliet knows that Romeo “shall die". In the same way, he describes her as having “beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear". She is already almost a heavenly being to him -- “bright angel", he calls her in 2.2. 

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This play perfectly captures the heady, star-spattered rush of first love. The setting of Italy is perfect, too, for that feeling of hot-blooded passion. No wonder the blood feud forms the other key pillar of the play, the antithesis to Romeo and Juliet's love. On this second reading, the great sadness of the feud struck me; the way in which love is in some ways a dream, because though Romeo and Juliet dream of rising above their families' prejudices, they cannot. 

I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north,
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south."

(1.4.97-104)

I completely fell in love with this play when I studied it aged fifteen, and I loved it no less this time. It will always be the play that introduced me to Shakespeare; my first love of this man. Fitting, isn't it? Writing about it in LesMisBook was such a joy.

“Here's much to do with hate, but more with love." (1.1.169)

Could anything be more wonderfully Nina? I think not.

//
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A classic in translation // Letters to a Young Poet

I've been wanting to read this for years, and was so glad finally to pick it up. Rainer Maria Rilke was a Czech-born poet (1875-1926). Young poet Franz Kappus wrote to him to ask for advice about his writing, and the correspondence that ensued spanned several years and delved into life, love and art. It was encouraging to me:

“Be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future." (p17)

Rilke's basic philosophy was that art is unstoppable, and will endure, so that in spite of loneliness and heartbreak, we can take comfort in its immortality. I loved these lines:

“To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come." (p13)

Don't stress. “It will come." Trees grow, and so do novels. 

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His advice, therefore, is to “live the questions":

“We must accept our existence in as wide a sense as can be; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible within it. ... the courage for the oddest, most unexpected, the most inexplicable things we may encounter." (p43)

I love this. That's what writing is, right? Accepting everything as possible. Taking twenty-six letters and a pen, and making anything at all.

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A Russian classic // The Idiot

You'd have to be pretty dim new around here not to know how much I love The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and Boris from that book loves The Idiot by Dostoevsky, so how could I stay away?!

Prince Leo Myshkin has spent several years being treated for “idiocy" in a Swiss clinic. When his money runs out, he returns to Russia to start a new life. The society into which he is plunged -- one of social conventions, intrigue and beautiful women -- is bewildering, but Leo soon gains the love of those around him. He gained my love, too, very easily; his naivety and good nature make him an endearing hero. The Idiot was often funny, always compelling: a look at how society works, the people it creates, and what it does with them.

“It is not easy to achieve heaven on earth, and you do seem to count on it a little: heaven is a difficult matter, Prince, much more difficult than it seems to your excellent heart." (p376-7)

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yellow aesthetics
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All in all, this was a wonderful book. It had all the grandeur of the Russian epic, with its diverse cast of characters, and it captured my heart from the beginning. Thoroughly recommend.

~***~

What were you reading, while I was reading these in Kenya? What's the best thing you've read this year?

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Thursday, 15 June 2017

What I Got Up To In Kenya

The Great Rift Valley
It was dark when I arrived in Kenya. “When you get off the plane,” my father had said to me, “you’ll smell the heat and the dust and you’ll know you’re in Africa.” He was right. The night was hot and the moon was upside-down.


The first two weeks were a time of flux. Lots of people do fortnight-long mission trips, two weeks of work before heading home. I can’t imagine. By the end of those two weeks we were only just finding our feet. We were burgled during that time, and had to move out of our flat just when we’d settled in, but in the end this was a blessing: in our new home, we became a lot closer to our Kenyan hosts and to each other. But the first two weeks were bewildering. We were a team of eight girls, and it was strange for me to find myself living so close with seven others. I rather felt like an animal that had been captured and put in a zoo. But from the start we loved each other, and that love would only grow.

If you don't know which one I am, the hint is that my fave colour is orange.

Work started, and with it came routine. We worked in a place called Rafiki (which means “friend” in Swahili; see also the monkey in The Lion King), a boarding and day school that helps HIV/AIDs orphans as well as educating children from the community. Sometimes we taught, but mostly it was washing up, laundry, bread-making and kitchen work. These tasks sound menial, but they drew us together: what else can happen, when you’re alone with one person, two huge outdoor sinks, some dubious hessian rags, and 190 plastic plates? 


The conversations sorting lentils in the sun were conversations to be treasured. And the school welcomed us with open arms. We became great friends with the baker, who on the first day he met me asked me, “If a Kenyan man asked you to marry him, what would you say?” (I don’t think it was real love, though. He kept forgetting my name and calling me Evelyn.)


The children were marvellous: exuberant and exhausting. They taught us games and plaited our hair. Teaching them was often a joy, though difficult. Normally we wangled for CRE lessons: Christian Religious Education. In Britain, religious education is pluralistic, covering every belief and lauding none. In Kenyan schools, the Bible is proclaimed as truth. This was wonderful, except that often the curriculum wound away from the Bible, pulled into wrong theology by the tug of culture and tradition. We tried to pull it back: find a way into the gospel and run with it. Who knows how much the children took in? They’ve spent their lives learning by rote: maybe some of them never managed to think for themselves. We prayed for them.


A couple of times I wasn’t so lucky, and ended up doing Maths and Biology. A fellow English Lit student and I found our grasp of primary school arithmetic to be lacking, and there was the memorable occasion when my friend Sally told the fifteen-year-olds that ducks have talons. I think they enjoyed having us, though: everyone loves a student teacher. But I felt bad. They deserved better than some unqualified, clueless eighteen-year-olds. Thankfully, we were able to stick to CRE nine times out of ten.


My memories of Rafiki (which we affectionately called Raffers) are suffused with sunshine and laughter. It was always hot. Each morning a ramshackle mini-bus – the children always greeted it with cries of, “the Nissan, the Nissan!”, and we did the same – took us to school. 

I've never had so much affection for a vehicle. Ever.
They were simple days, mostly spent outside, splitting into pairs to do our mundane but somehow lovely tasks. There is something liberating about simple work: standing scrubbing those 190 plates, knowing you’re doing something necessary. At 10:30 each morning we’d break for tea and bread rolls, and the reunion was always joyous, as if we’d been a long time apart. Lunch was the same, debriefing over a plate of rice and beans. They were the best meals ever. Would I love my girls quite so much if it weren’t for Raffers? Definitely not. The two months I worked there were some of the happiest of my life. Best job I’ve ever had, for sure.

#throwbackthursday to when I had normal hair ...


I loved the uncomplicated pleasures of Rafiki: the warm bread rolls, the laughter, the drive to and from school through the green hills. Our route took us over a trainline, and the Nissan, the Nissan! always groaned and faltered crossing the rails. Is this the day, we wondered every day, when the Nissan, the Nissan! breaks down? But it was a valiant bus and it never failed us. Every day, morning and afternoon, I’d look eagerly up and down the railway line in case of a train. I love trains, and missed them desperately. Once, we left school a little late, and we stopped when we came to the railway line. What was that magical sound? What was that glorious shape, growing in the distance? “A train, a train!” the children shouted, and I may have been shouting with them.

Once I was working in the dark, smoky bakery when music floated to me. I stepped outside. Along the red road beside Rafiki a man drove his goats through the russet puddles of just-fallen rain. Each one wore a bell, and the sound was like some melodious sea. A sound for a life spent working with animals and the land. It moved me, the sight and the music.

When I got home each day I’d take my tea in a plastic mug and go upstairs to write. Those were happy times, Nina and JBH and me, and I love that I’ll always remember that first draft of LesMisBook, crafted on a lumpy bunk bed, in a small, darkish room. I loved that bed and that room. A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction, Virginia Woolf wrote, but I wrote that novel in a room shared by four. It was tiny, and you can imagine the mess, and often the desire for solitude was so great I wanted to bang my head against a wall, but I loved it. The way we would talk as we fell asleep, voices floating in the dark. The way my best friends were always right there next to me.



I loved Zambezi, too, our town. The high street was lined with makeshift shops, boards nailed together, where dresses hung or mangoes spilled onto the road. It was always noisy, haggling looping back and forth. The clothes they sell are often charity donations from the UK or US, so it was like secondhand shopping at home: I came back with a long green coat and some excellent shirts, feeling pleased with myself. Our favourite things to buy were packs of six round sponge cakes, called Marylands, 30 Kenyan shillings*, far and away the best snacks in the world.

*23p or 29 cents


Along the streets of Zambezi, donkeys pulled carts and chickens wove in and out of the cars and motorbikes. That was a fascinating thing, to see how western and traditional culture fused. It is best epitomised, I think, by the men I saw in the north: a traditional shuka round their waist, a staff in their hand, and an English Premier League football shirt. Amazing, how football permeates everywhere. I once saw a man in a Crieff Juniors shirt. Crieff is a little town in central Scotland: how did the strip of their junior team make it to Kenya? It made me smile. 

We got good at handwashing. It's another thing that brings you together; when you meet someone's eye across the soaping bucket and say “I'm currently scrubbing the crotch of your pyjama trousers", how can lifelong bonding be avoided?
In a lot of ways, life was stripped back. I had no Facebook, no blog, no make-up, no city, none of it. Life took on a slower pace, a warm rhythm. And this was wonderful, because it let me study the Bible more than ever before. We read through John, and Jesus’ humility struck me. I was trying to learn to love sacrificially, to have a servant heart, and there He was: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet." (John 13:3-5) Jesus, God of the universe, washed His followers’ feet. In a country where I’d come home each day and remove my socks to find a line of dust around my ankles, I understood why this was a big deal. He was the ultimate servant; He went to the Cross to prove it. I am so thankful for this trip, because it showed me more of the world He’s made, and it allowed me to grow closer to Him.


~***~

If you missed it (seriously, how could you miss it), I was in Kenya from January until May on a mission trip. I have a lot more stories to tell! The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that this narrative only went up to the end of March. In April, we went north to share Jesus in the rural county of Samburu. That really was going back to basics: no electricity, no running water, et cetera and et cetera. And then May happened, with the dreads and the ostriches. So, if you're interested, there will be more of What I Got Up To In Kenya.

Also, I'd like to know: when I was working at Raffers in February and March, what were you doing? What were the highlights?

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

I'm Back From Kenya, I Wrote LesMisBook & I Have Dreadlocks

Now we can work through that list one at a time.

1. OH MY GOSH HI!

All the gifs in the world cannot convey the JOY IN MY SOUL at being able to say: hey guys! What's up? 

I went to Kenya for four months.

It was pretty great.

You may have questions, such as “how was it?", “what did you do?", “did you ever ride an ostrich?" The answer to the third one is yes I did.

Actual riding pictures will follow.
The answers to the other two are a bit more complex. I will post about Kenya, if you'd like that, but this post is more like a meerkat popping its head up in the desert to say, “yes! Here I am!"

2. I Wrote LesMisBook

Yes, indeed! I've never written a contemporary before but I had a whale of a time. I finished it sitting in front of that wooden door, with the mountain behind me.


In other writing news, I am now fifth-drafting TCATT. Which is hard.

3. I Got Dreads

So that's fun, eh?

I have pictures and I will share my pictures just as soon as I can, but currently they're stuck on a friend's iPod, like a person stuck at the train station in the rain when their lift's not showing up.

Keep checking back, yeah?

It's strange to be back, and yet, in another way, it feels like I never left.

When I think about Kenya it fills my head -- the heat, the way the clouds looked different in the massive skies -- but equally the familiarity of home has fallen all around me, as if my life has carried smoothly on from the place I left it in January. But I guess I'm a different person, so I can't just consign Kenya to memories.

It's good to be back. Seeing my family and friends. The wonderful greeting my dogs gave me. Swimming in my lake; G&Ts in the garden; enjoying long evenings after spending my spring on the equator, where the days are always twelve hours long. And, oh my, all the food I missed! CHOCOLATE. It's been a good homecoming.

I've got a lot to say, but for now I just want to hear all your lovely voices (in a virtual sense), and visit all your lovely blogs. It's been too long.


~***~

Until very soon! 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Back to the Classics 2017

Once again I speak to you from the past! Am I writing from a parallel dimension? Can I time travel? Or did I just schedule this post?

Image result for jack sparrow ooh hands gif
I guess you'll never know.
So anyway. Gifs aside, my past self would like to announce that she's linking up with the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017, hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate!


To quote from Karen's blog:
It's back! Once again, I'm hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge. I hope to encourage bloggers to discover and enjoy classic books they might not have tried, or just never got around to reading. And at the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 (US) prize from Amazon.com or The Book Depository! 
Here's how it works:
The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate: 
Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
Cool, right? Thanks so much to Karen for hosting! Here are the twelve categories.

1. A 19th Century Classic

Ah, we could slot anyone in here. Maybe Bleak House? Or maybe I should tackle Walter Scott at long last -- my parents recommend The Heart of Midlothian.

2. A 20th Century Classic - must have been published at least fifty years ago (1967).

Perhaps The Beautiful and Damned by F Scott Fitzgerald. He and I have been apart for too long.

3. A classic by a woman author

I've been meaning to read Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Or I could return to Du Maurier -- it's been far too long -- and finally pick up Jamaica Inn. Or Middlemarch (so that Eliot can be redeemed in my eyes after my disappointment in Romola?). Or I am planning to read The Flame-Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley while in Kenya. Lots of options!

4. A classic in translation

I intend to read Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, originally written in German!

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, page 35.:
Based on a) this picture and b) Rilke's featuring in Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls. Read a serendipitous story combining these three things here.
5. A pre-1800 classic

I'm about to reread Romeo and Juliet, as research for LesMisBook -- Nina is performing a Juliet speech (Act 3 Scene 2, if you're interested) in her drama school audition. At least, that's my excuse for revisiting this beloved play ... I also plan to read A Midsummer Night's Dream and Cymbeline. And I've been meaning to tackle Spenser's Faerie Queene for ages ... if I can work up the moxie! 

6. A romance classic

Austen, anyone? Mansfield Park is the last book of hers I'm yet to read. I can't wait!

7. A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads.

So, confession time. I have never read Dracula, Frankenstein, or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and I don't really want to. I think it's because a) I don't like sci-fi/horror, and b) they all feel so familiar to me -- Dracula and Frankenstein, especially, have been rehashed so many times in popular culture over the years. So please, change my mind! If you've read one of these books and liked it, tell me why, and maybe I'll pick it up!

I do, however, have some preferred options for this category. Maybe The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo -- because I love Les Mis! So! Much! -- or maybe Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. I've had this one on my shelf for a while -- it's a cult fantasy book from 1959. The only problem is, I'm trying not to start series with gay abandon, and it's the first in a trilogy. So we shall see.

Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake.   After five or six abortive attempts as a teenager, I decided it was about time that I read my mother's favourite book all the way through. I don't think I've ever read a book with such vivid imagery - it's amazing. I may have to wait for the strange dreams to stop until I read the next part of the trilogy though...:
[source] // how great is this cover??
8. A classic with a number in the title

OK, I don't have an idea for this one! But apparently Fahrenheit 451 is about book-burning? (Maybe everyone else knew this and just didn't want to tell me?) So I might give it a go.

9. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title

I would've been all over this last year, reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Metamorphosis. This time I think I'll read one of my Little Black Classics (because I've been awful at getting through those): a Viking epic called The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue. Sounds good, right?!

10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit

I love this category! At the moment I lean towards Across the River and Into the Trees by Hemingway, because my heart dwells always in Venice.

Venice:
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11. An award-winning classic

Don't have a clue for this one. Suggestions?

12. A Russian Classic (2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution!)

This one's easy: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It's a book they talk about a lot in The Goldfinch, so, yeah, I'm right there.

And now, the rest of the rules, copied from Karen's post:

All books must be read in 2017. Books started before January 1, 2017 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2017. I'll post links each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar on this blog for the entire year.
You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2017. Please include links within your final wrap-up to that I can easily confirm all your categories. Also, it is OK to rearrange books to fit different categories in your wrap-up post -- for example, last year I originally planned to use Journey to the Center of the the Earth in the Fantasy/SciFi/Dystopian category, but then I decided to count it as an Adventure Classic. Most books count count toward several categories, so it's fine if you change them, as long as they are identified in your wrap-up post.
All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
Books may NOT cross over within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn't count.
Children's classics are acceptable, but please, no more than 3 total for the challenge.
If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. For example, if you have a Goodreads account, you could create a dedicated list to the challenge, and link to that with a tentative list (the list can change throughout the challenge).
The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2017. After that, I will close the link and you'll have to wait until the next year! Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. Also, make sure you add your link to the Linky below, NOT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. If I don't see your name in the original Linky, YOU WILL BE INELIGIBLE. If you've made a mistake with your link, just add a second one.
You do NOT have to list all the books you're going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it's more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order.
The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2018. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either Amazon.com OR $30 worth of books from The Book Depository. The winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here.

~***~

I'm really excited about this. It's a nice way to organise the books I'm planning to read, and hopefully to reach out in the classics blog network (because I pretend to be a YA book blogger, but ... am I? No. I am an enigma and a mystery.) And the giveaway part is lovely, too!

Please let me know if you're taking part, and link me to your post!

Pinterest: @isabellereneexo:
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Saturday, 14 January 2017

TIME'S ARROW // tired of being human

If everything has gone according to plan, I'm currently in Kenya.

reminds me of Skulduggery:
[source] // sorry, that was a bit harsh. Put it down to my current HIGH SKULDUGGERY FEELINGS -- it reminds me of him -- as I reread the books.
Speaking of Skulduggery (as I always am) -- books involving dubious mortality bring us nicely onto Time's Arrow by Martin Amis.

~***~

Image result for time's arrow martin amis cover
I moved forward, out of the blackest sleep, to find myself surrounded by doctors. So begins Time's Arrow, as the narrator wakes from death. This novel is his story, backwards. Time winds back: he grows younger, and the reader pieces together the excitements and horrors of his life as we span back through the twentieth century.

Describing this book, I run the risk of making it sound childish. How can a narrative run backwards? In fact, the structure is delicious: an exquisite puzzle as Amis turns ordinary events on their heads, making our world strange by showing it in reverse.
Water moves upwards. It seeks the highest level. What did you expect? Smoke falls. Things are created in the violence of fire. ... Oh, the disgusted look on women's faces as they step backwards through a doorway, out of the rain. Never watching where they are going, the people move through something prearranged, armed with lies. They're always looking foward to going places they've just come back from, or regretting doing things they haven't yet done. They say hello when they mean goodbye. Lords of lies and trash -- all kings of crap and trash. Signs say No Littering -- but who to? We wouldn't dream of it. Government does that, at night, with trucks; or uniformed men come sadly at morning with their trolleys, dispensing our rubbish, and sh*t for the dogs. (p51)
I have never read a book that deals with time in this way, and on every page I marvelled at the dexterity and freshness with which Amis handled his subject.

 :
[source] // it's not the first time I've posted this and it probably won't be the last. You're welcome.
So, why? Why is it told backwards? “Time is heading on now towards something. It pours past unpreventably, like the reflections on a windscreen as the car speeds through city or forest." (p67) Where is time heading? Notice the swastika on the cover. The novel leads us, inexorably, to Auschwitz.

The main character was there. By telling his story backwards, Amis defamiliarises World War Two and shows its horrors in a whole new way. In an effort to disconnect himself from what happened to him -- what he did -- the narrator speaks from outside the MC's body, seeing himself as a separate entity.
He is travelling towards his secret. Parasite or passenger, I am travelling there with him. It will be bad. It will be bad, and not intelligible. (p72)
“Bad, and not intelligible." This is it, this is Auschwitz. Time's Arrow deals with the realities of World War Two and the overwhelming question: after committing atrocities, how can one remain human?
There's probably a straightforward explanation for the impossible weariness I feel. A perfectly straightforward explanation. It is a mortal weariness. Maybe I'm tired of being human, if human is what I am. I'm tired of being human. (p103)
your local human:
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~***~

Time's Arrow was easily one of my favourite books of 2016: it challenged the way I thought about time, death and reality, and it's in no way your average WW2 novel.

I'm being immature. I've got to get over it. I keep expecting the world to make sense. It doesn't. It won't. Ever. (p91)

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

16 Bookish Thoughts from 2016

Yet again I'm linking up with Jamie at the Perpetual Page Turner for her End-of-Year Book Survey! Because we don't talk about books enough. I have slightly, *ahem*, modified the survey, so here you are: 16 Bookish Thoughts from 2016. (Which is a fancy way of saying I picked 16 of the In Books questions. It's #aesthetic, trust me.)

Number Of Books You Read:
Eight more than I read last year! Well done, me! That includes five rereads.
Most-Read Genre:

Classics! There's a surprise, eh?


1. Best Book


Last year I actually picked a single book, but ... here we are. Oops. To highlight the books I'm not going to talk about again this post:

Les Mis // exquisite, honestly. More than worth the month I spent on it. I don't know if I'd be writing LesMisBook if I hadn't read this -- I already loved the musical, but reading it takes that to a whole new level -- so it has literally changed my life!

 :
[source]
River // favourite book by favourite poet. I think about this book a lot.

Hurry up. Join the love-orgy
Up here among the leaves, in the light rain,

Under a flimsy tent of dusky wings.

~ from Caddis

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More Than You Did?


The Raven King // OK OK PLEASE DONUT HATE ME. I LOVED THE RAVEN KING. I GAVE IT FIVE STARS. I BOUGHT IT ON RELEASE DAY AND FINISHED IT THE NEXT. But ... it confused me? At points? Basically I expected it to be perfect, and shrieked a lot beforehand about how I expected it be perfect, and when I read it I couldn't exactly work out if it was perfect ... or if I just read it too fast and assumed it was perfect because that was my expectation. I may also have slightly forgotten the plots of the previous books. So the conclusion is I must reread the series, and then I shall know the truth. 

Two Lives // I was so disappointed! A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth is one of my favourites (heck, Nina Seth is named after him), but this one I ... did not like. It meandered. A lot. It didn't answer any of its own questions. Much sadness did I feel.

Lanark // was hoping for METAFICTIONAL GLASWEGIAN TRIUMPH and got really long, sexually dubious, bizarre novel. It was really interesting and I really liked it. But I didn't love it the way I was expecting.

Romola // SO MUCH DISAPPOINTED SADNESS IN MY HEART. I loved (with the blazing passion of a forest fire) Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss, also by George Eliot. And then ... Romola. Really long. Characters ranging between kinda annoying and very annoying. So densely written I thought my eyes would fall out. Lots of politics. Weird religion.

It just makes me so so sad when an author you loved who wrote books you adored (Vikram Seth, George Eliot) produces something you do not adore, and you have to say, oh, maybe he/she isn't perfect, after all. And the cruel reality of the world falls heavy upon your young shoulders.
Heir of Fire // it really wasn't Crown of Midnight, was it?? WHERE WAS CHAOL? (And where was the satisfying worldbuilding, and the great writing, and the male characters who don't instantly fall in love with Celaena? Yet to see any of these in this series, to be honest. (I did like this book, but not as much as the previous one!))

The Aeneid // so ... long ... so many ... names ... so much ... blood ... honour ... swords ... light is ... fading ... 
^Basically me reading The Aeneid.

*ahem*

3. Best Series Started? Best Sequel? Best Series Ender?


Desolation // I started this trilogy in the spring. I didn't think Demon Road was the best thing ever, but Desolation absolutely blew me away! It was! So! Good! (And now I'm rereading the Skulduggery books and just, damn, I love Landy a lot.)

Forever and Sinner // HELLO TO THE BEST SERIES ENDER AND TWO OF THE YEAR'S BEST BOOKS. Wolves of Mercy Falls just gets better and better. The writing, the romance, the humour. We don't say All Hail Stiefvater for nothing, do we? More thoughts on this series here.

Anne's House of Dreams // after slight disappointment in the fourth book, this #5 was wonderful. Watch out for more Anne chat in this post.

The Golem's Eye // a good surprise! The Amulet of Sarmakand, the first one in this trilogy, was good but not amazing, but I loved this book!

The Last Olympian and The Lost Hero // Percy = life. These books are my old friends, I love them.


AND THESE BOOKS WERE UTTERLY AMAZING. Because I don't talk about JK Rowling enough. I loved The Cuckoo's Calling, but these two took it to a whole new level. Characters! Setting! Murders! Plot twists! Pace! Social observations! Come on, look me in the eye and tell me you don't want to read about a detective duo solving fascinating murders in London.

The fourth book is coming out this spring.


4. Most Memorable Character?

I'm going to take this as a Donna Tartt cue. All her characters are complex and utterly believable, and The Secret History was a perfect example of this. (One of) the theme(s) of the book is the nature of evil and how it presents itself, and this centres around the character of Henry, who is the mastermind behind the murder with which the book starts, and also beloved of the characters and the reader. I can't stop thinking about him, about this book. More thoughts here.

Francis talking, gesticulating wildly in his white robe and Henry with his hands clasped behind his back, Satan listening patiently to the ranting of some desert prophet.

5. Most Beautifully Written? // Favorite Passage/Quotation?

Right back into The Secret History!

Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs. 


// I know I've shared this one at least twice before, but, like, damn. First line. Swooping me in and refusing to let me go until I'd turned the last page.
[source] // @hawwaetc
//

It is easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but my own happiness, and I don't know what else to say except that life itself seemed very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen. Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together -- my future, my past, the whole of my life -- and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!

// This probably is my favourite passage, if I'm going actually to answer the question. Serendipity. The world slipping into place. Have we not all felt this way? The tragedy, of course, is how it falls the other way so fast, dreams shattering, certainties vanishing like mist.

Tracey Emin's Neon Lights - Feminine Collective:
[source]
Also Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway. This really was one of my favourite books, too.

Now, looking out of the tunnel of trees over the ravine at the sky with the white clouds moving across in the wind, I loved the country so that I was happy as you are after you have been with a woman you really love, when, empty, you feel it welling up again and there it is and you can never have it all and yet what there is, now, you can have, and you want more and more, to have, and be, and live in, to possess now again for always, for that long, sudden-ended always; making time stand still, sometimes so very still that afterwards you want to hear it move, and it is slow in starting. ... So if you have loved some woman and some country you are very fortunate and, if you die afterwards, it makes no difference. Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains with no need to travel, the discomforts that you paid to make it real, the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds, to know the language and have time to be in it and to move slowly. I have loved country all my life; the country was always better than the people. I could only care about people a very few at a time.

// take me to Kenya! Review here.

Pinterest: @pastel5sos Tumblr: @viirtualsouls:
[source]
And finally Darling by Jackie Kay, specifically this poem, which I posted in my last post but hey let's all read it again!

In my country

walking by the waters
down where an honest river
shakes hands with the sea,
a woman passed round me
in a slow watchful circle,
as if I were a superstition,

or the worst dregs of her imagination,
so when she finally spoke
her words sliced into bars
of an old wheel. A segment of air.
Where do you come from?
‘Here,' I said, ‘Here. These parts.'

National identity, innit. For more thoughts on why this is so important to me, click here.

6. Most Thought-Provoking Book?


Completely changed the way I thought about race and racism. And hair. Review here.

7. Book That Shocked You The Most

Apart from We Were Liars? A Dance With Dragons: After the Feast by George Rampaging Ruinous Martin. I'm not going to say why, but if you read it you know why.

I just thought ... well let's not talk about what I thought because what I thought was wrong. The world is a web of lies.
8. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)


BEATRICE AND BENEDICK = LIFE. 

Also ROBIN AND STRIKE, STRIKE AND ROBIN from the Cormoran Strike books!

Me @ Book 4
9. Best Book Read Based On Peer Pressure?

We Were Liars by E Lockhart. Everyone and their nan has read this but I only got involved this spring ... and I loved it! Absolutely stunning. If you're like, meh, don't like hyped books" ... make an exception for this one! Review here.

10. 2016 fictional crush?

Bizarrely, I don't think I have one! Maybe Henry Cheng? But really, my heart goes on for Jaime. That's all there is ...

11. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?


Normally I talk about A Song of Ice and Fire, but as I have already said “the worldbuilding is so stunning! The depth! The geography! The religion! The history! The food!" 685950 times, I thought I'd highlight Sunset Song.

you'd waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you'd cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies.

There is a scene from Macbeth that sticks in my head. Malcolm and Macduff are talking, and after a long speech in which Malcolm speaks of the horror coming for their land, Macduff, overcome by emotion, cries simply, “O Scotland, Scotland!" One of the reasons I loved Sunset Song was that I've barely read any books set in Scotland. The way Grassic Gibbon described the land was absolutely beautiful,

12. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Got to be the two Georgia Nicolson books I read, Luuurve is a Many-Trousered Thing and Stop In the Name of Pants! If those titles don't tell you all you need to know ... Seriously, though, you may frown upon teen romance / bright pink books, but the Georgia Nicolson series, I assure you, will send those prejudices skittering aside like dust. They convulse me with laughter. I can't believe I only have one left to read!

13. Hidden Gem Of The Year?


I'm putting this one in here because, whilst Anne of Green Gables is well-loved and famous, I feel the later books of the series get a lot less love. Anne's House of Dreams was absolutely delightful! And I don't think many people have read this far. I cannot wait to read the sixth book!

14. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Apocalyptic picture of a father and son travelling through an ashen America, searching for the sea. Probably in my 2016 top three; it also took my heart and diced it and mashed the pieces and served them on toast. The opening lines:

When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. The nights dark beyond darkness and the days each one more gray than what had come before.

15. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

Time's Arrow by Martin Amis. It's told backwards! Like, it starts with the narrator waking up in bed, having just died. He gets up, he leaves the hospital, and back we go through his life as he grows younger. This book absolutely blew me away; review is written and scheduled!

16. Other Books You Want to Shriek About?

Love's Labours Lost // properly hilarious Shakespeare play. Loved it.

Under Milk Wood // “a play for voices" by Dylan Thomas. Absolutely wonderful interweaving narrative telling the story of a day in a Welsh village.

A Grain of Wheat // very similar to Under Milk Wood, in fact: a Kenyan book about a village on the brink of independence from the British. Marvellous. Review here.

Shakespeare's Sonnets // stunning. This book changed the way I think about Shakespeare: it showed him, a man, an individual, writing about his feelings and his day-to-day. Read Sonnet 27. Have you ever lain awake thinking about someone? Well, so did Shakespeare. That blew my mind.

TS Eliot's Selected Poems // “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherised upon a table ..." So begins The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, one of my favourite poems. This book also contains The Waste Land, the post-WW1 poem that shook the face of twentieth century literature. I love TS Eliot, I can't tell you.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest // a remarkable look at mental illness, written after the author Ken Kesey spent time in a mental hospital in the 1960s.

Up on Disturbed there's an everlasting high-pitched machine-room clatter, a prison mill stamping out license plates. And time is measured out by the di-dock, di-dock of a ping-pong table.

I think about this quotation so much! Because that's how I feel about ping-pong! I mean, I get that's not exactly what it's about, but I remember reading this and being like YES, YES, THAT IS WHAT PING-PONG IS LIKE, THAT'S WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE, EMPTY, SOULLESS. It was a good moment.

Image result for alan bennett the best moments in reading
[source] // Alan Bennet
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looking-ahead-books-2015
1. 2017 Excitements
Skulduggery Pleasant Ten Teaser

The Winds of Winter // this was my answer last year, too! WHEN OH WHEN?!!!

Skulduggery Pleasant X // excuse me whilst I SHRIEK THE CONTENTS OF MY SOUL FOR SEVERAL THOUSAND YEARS. I'm currently rereading the Skulduggery series and having a whale of a time. It's like a massive reunion, and more beloved friends keep arriving!

Cormoran Strike #4 // still no cover or title! I NEED TO KNOW. It'd better be out when I get back from Kenya, I'm just saying.

2. 2017 Priorities: The Ones I Didn't Manage in 2016

2017's colours are blue and red, apparently.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone // humiliatingly enough, this was my answer to this question not only last year, but also the year before. IT'S SHAMEFUL I KNOW. But I am taking it to Kenya, it is HAPPENING!

The Scorpio Races // obviously.

Inglorious // because I love Come to the Edge by this author, and I've owned this one for over two years, and, yeah.

Queen of Shadows // because whilst I wasn't Heir of Fire's biggest fan, it's important to keep up with one's series!

Capital // I've owned this for so long ... like, I can hardly remember what it's about or why I bought it. (And it's not the only book on my shelf in that category! Oops ...)

I Am the Messenger // because I spend 100% of my time saying, “I love Markus Zusak! The Book Thief is one of my favourite books!" and 0% of my time a) rereading The Book Thief or b) reading any of his other books. Oops!

All the Bright Places // I'm getting there!

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell // I think I've owned this for about four years?? And every fantasy fan and their gran has told me to read it. It's just ... you know, really long ...

Gone to the Forest // owned since summer 2015, I think. Very cool surrealism! I just need to actually, like, read it.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius // owned for over four years. Oh, Emily, when will you learn?

Probably never.

~***~

That was a post and a half! Can you sum up your 2016 reading in a word? What was your favourite book? A big disappointment? What's top of your 2017 TBR? Link me up to your survey!

Now, I'm hoping to schedule a couple of posts before I go on Thursday, and I will probably pop up occasionally to reply to comments, but ... I'm not sure. This isn't goodbye goodbye, but it might be a little bit of a goodbye. A farewell, let's say. There's not enough virtual cake in the world for you guys. Regular blogging resumes in May; until then, you're in my prayers. Write those novels! Topple those TBRs (but don't get crushed). Lots of love.